STEM camp culminates in community expo

Published 10:35 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Verizon’s Innovation Learning Program for Girls recently held a three-week kick-off camp at the Regional Workforce Center at Paul D. Camp Community College for nearly 50 middle-school girls.

This specialized STEM camp for girls culminated with a community expo on July 28.

“We invite the public to join us to see the girls’ creative and futuristic projects that demonstrate their newfound skills in coding, digital storytelling, virtual and augmented reality, 3-D design and entrepreneurship,” said Teri Zurfluh, VIL STEM camp director.

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Verizon has never sponsored an all-girl STEM camp before, but this summer, only five rural community colleges in the entire country were identified by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) to pilot Verizon’s first effort in providing STEM education in a girls-only environment. This three-week camp will be followed by a year-long series of monthly events to continue developing these girls’ newfound STEM skills and abilities.

Gabrielle Johnson looking through goggles at a scene she created with virtual reality.

A visitor walking the halls during this program saw girls wear virtual reality goggles, remotely run miniature robots scooting about the halls operated by a pod of girls intently focused on that Ozobot with iPads in hand, and lots of eager faces engaged in technology and with each other. Many of these girls didn’t know each other prior to attending camp, as they come from many area middle schools; yet, they have become good friends in a few short weeks. And all are eager to talk about what they are learning.

D’Miya King loves using Roller Coaster, a special virtual reality app. She has discovered that she enjoys coding. “I love learning stuff about putting commands in computers,” she said.

While sitting together at lunch, Emily Hammond, Shynece Waters, Brianna Falcone, Aimee Corriea and Alexandra Mendiola shared their collective enthusiasm about their experiences at this STEM camp. Their favorite newfound skills were virtual reality, operating apps and coding with their iPads. They all mentioned their love for the 3-D printer, specifically working with the 3Doodler pens to create projects and manipulating the tiny filament with the pens.

Juleesah Parker likes stories with pictures. Because of that interest, she likes Morphi, a 3-D model design and printing app. Juleesah learned to code from an app called Playground, and while this might look like a fun game, she explained that the app teaches the user to code easily and enables her to create those stories she loves so well.

Multiple expert speakers infused the camp with their knowledge and enthusiasm. They represented women ranging from university deans, chief executive officers, researchers and nationally recognized leaders in STEM. Dr. Stephanie Adams, dean of engineering at Old Dominion University, shared with the girls her goal of “making sure there are women engineers to take my place in the future.” She invited the girls to come to ODU in the fall to “just build stuff with me in my engineering lab.”

Dr. Trina Fletcher, a researcher and director of similar STEM camps for the National Association of Black Engineers all over the country, shared her “Rules for a Successful You,” outlining tips for success in any field of endeavor.

While the girls had virtual field trips and visitors, they also traveled to the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton to explore STEM and space exploration, including demonstrations about materials engineering in deep cold space, interactive space exhibits and a visit inside the Center’s Lunar Habitat. They even got to taste an “out of this world” treat: ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. A few girls also had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the International Space Station R&D Conference at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel. They privately met with an astronaut, a scientist and a space entrepreneur; communicated with NASA astronauts in the International Space Station; and were interviewed by the media team from the Smart Girls organization founded by artist Amy Poehler.

The camp was fortunate to forge community partnerships with two local entrepreneurs — Greg Scott of Cover 3 that provided daily healthy breakfasts and lunches for the girls, and Charles “C.C.” Cooper of Kids Kab that transported students to camp from and back to designated locations throughout Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.